A washing guide for linen


Who knew? I sure didn’t! Here are some important tips for keeping your linen garb immaculately spiffy!

Originally posted on :

I sometimes get questions about linen. I will try to answer those questions here, without getting too technical. But here are some technical facts anyway ;) The linen fibers are straight (think of straight hair, the fibers look very much the same). This means they have almost zero flexibility and stretch. They contain natural glue. When spinning the thread, water is added to the fibers and the glue sticks them together, which makes the thread really strong.
1. When buying fabric. It’s preferable that you wash your linen before you make something out of it. Linen shrinks about 5% during the first washing. Some qualities may shrink as much as 10%.
2. To avoid permanent breakage of the fibers you need to pre-soak the fabric. This is easiest to do in a bath tub. Try to lay the fabric down as flat as possible. I always try to go from…

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Printed Matter During the Italian Renaissance

Renaissance Printing… has fascinated me lately. I began researching the subject in preparation for launching my 16th century apothecary. I wanted to make sure that the printed material for the shop resembled period pamphlets and was inspired by Katherine Kerr’s Hermitage website where she lists her projects down in Lochac. Here is what I have found so far:

Chapbooks (mostly 17th century, though) were small publications that contained songs, poems, political treatises, folk stories, religious tracts, and all manner of short texts. In general, chapbooks were inexpensive publications designed for the poorer literate classes. They were typically printed on a single sheet of low-quality paper, folded to make eight, sixteen, or twenty-four pages, though some examples were longer still. Closely related to the chapbook were two other forms also hawked in the streets during the same period.

Chapbook 8 page from library dot sc dot edu

The Lilly Library Chapbook Collection, comprising 1900 texts, has a web-based search engine dedicated solely to chapbooks.

The Glasgow University Library’s Special Collections Department has a web-based search engine that lists over 1200 “chap-books”.

Broadsides were printed on one side, and a broadsheet was printed on both. In its heyday of the first half of the 17th century (though there are many 16th century examples), a broadside ballad was a single large sheet of paper printed on one side (hence “broad-side”) with multiple eye-catching illustrations, a popular tune title, and an alluring poem—the latter mostly in black-letter, or what we today call “gothic,” type. They ranged from large proclamations (approx 1000 x 500 mm) to small handbills (200 x 150 mm); typically with a multi-sentence title header, a large woodcut illustration and a double-column, right-registered format with a large woodcut initial and smaller woodcut sidebars. This link hosts Broadsides. Smaller slip-poems were printed on a long strip of paper cut from a larger sheet. You can find more facsimiles of many of the original 16th century sheets here: http://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/

broadside 1620 Magdalene college pepys 1248-249

During the 15th century a type of book called a zibaldone became popular on the Italian peninsula. A zibaldone, a predecessor to the item known as a commonplace book in English, was written in the Italian vernacular and contained handy information for the owner in a portable bound volume.

An English zibaldone dating to the 15th century, the Book of Brome, contains poems, notations on memorial law, lists of expenses, and diary entries.

Zibaldone were made of paper and were much smaller than the large desk registers of the time. They often lacked the ornamentation and illumination of other types of books, and contained devotional, technical, literary, and documentary texts. The Zibaldone da Canal, a Venetian merchant’s book, contained taxes, exchange rates, medical remedies, recipes, quotations, ship drawings, merchant culture information, and excerpts from popular literary works. Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai was the compiler of the most well known examples of zibaldone (Kent 2000). Giovanni was well-acquainted with the classics and he kept a zibaldone into which he copied his translations of passages from Greek and Latin authors such as Senaca the Younger and Aristotle (Cosenza).

The zibaldone, or commonplace book, can be used as a model for event booklet, personalized journals, recipe collections, etc. A blank or pre-printed journal with passages collected under common headings: quotes, poems, recipes, lists, laws, prayers, jokes, heraldic blazons, predictions, mathematical tables, astronomical/astrological lore etc, representing the writer’s interests or whatever “noble thoughts” the education system or parents through they should have. Their format varied (period examples: 312 x 200mm, 207 x 140mm). Usually paper, with vellum commonly used as a cover, tied with silk ties; sometimes covered in a leather wallet binding, closed with a strap and buckle. See Commonplace Books, Yale

View over 250 digitized Renaissance festival books (selected from over 2,000 in the British Library’s collection) that describe the magnificent festivals and ceremonies that took place in Europe between 1475 and 1700 – marriages and funerals of royalty and nobility, coronations, stately entries into cities and other grand events. http://www.bl.uk/treasures/festivalbooks/homepage.html

Vade mecum** (aka girdle book, belt book, folded book, my favorite type of book for the apothedary) is a handbook or guide that is kept constantly at hand for consultation. It was used in period for ball cheat sheets, event information. A veritable “period filofax”, it consisted of sheets folded into a small size and bound together so as to be readily tucked into a belt for ready reference; used for astronomical almanacs and doctors’ manuals with each sheet holding a different topic. The formats main feature is the stab-stitch binding of a series of folded single sheets. Boston College example here http://at.bc.edu/slideshows/dualpurpose/8.html.

This blog, https://andrewkeener.wordpress.com/ also reports links to more sites with facsimiles of vade mecum (lit. go with me) like the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC).

girdle book boston college

More links:

A 1595 Geneva Bible at Northwestern . . . and water damage. An interesting Renaissance Bible owned by a Revolutionary War-era family in Massachusetts is at Northwestern today, and its inscriptions tell us something about its remarkably damaged condition.

News: “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries.” I discuss the first stage of a Humanities Without Walls Initiative project designed to register Northwestern’s early imprints (1473-1700) with the English Short Title Catalogue.

A 1549 Giolito Anthology at Northwestern. I examine an influential early anthology of Italian poetry at Northwestern’s McCormick Library of Special Collections. Interesting foredge inscription & marginalia.

MS Annotations in a 17c Polyglot Dialogue Book. A book of dialogues in eight languages currently held at Northwestern University. Professor Susan Phillips has written about it, and it includes some interesting French marginalia in the Italian column.

Guest Post: A c16 Italian Grammar Owned By Robert Sackville. Published in the University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center blog, this post recounts my discovery of Robert Sackville’s copy of William Thomas’s Principal Rvles of the Italian Grammer (London, 1567). Sackville was son to Queen Elizabeth I’s cousin Thomas Sackville; the owner’s inscription appears on the book’s title page.

A c16 Italian Grammar Book owned by Robert Sackville. A longer post on the Sackville copy of Thomas’s Principal Rvles held at the University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center.


New Event Concept Allows Easterners to Explore Research in a Novel Way.

Originally posted on East Kingdom Gazette:

Voyages of Discovery - 10

On Saturday October 25, in Carolingia, over 70 Easterners participated in a new way to hold an event. There was a autocrat, gate, classes, even a musician playing in the social hall throughout the day. There was even a dayboard, unconventional as it was. (Those who pre-registered had the option of ordering a burrito lunch catered in) What there wasn’t, was garb, court, or people in persona.

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Spezieria: The Italian Apothecary

After many months of research into the Italian books of secrets I began to wonder, if you weren’t making them yourself, where you might go to buy cosmetics. I wanted to answer a few questions:

  1. What was the name of the shop that would sell cosmetics and other beauty/health supplies?
  2. What items would those shops offer?
  3. Who would frequent the shop?
  4. What types of records from the shopkeepers might be in Italian archives?

spezieria di san giovanni at scorcidiparma

The first link I found was the jars that the apothecaries might use to hold their wares. The term for a jar is alberello. An albarello, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, is “a pottery jar for apothecaries’ ointments and dry drugs … produced in Italy from the 15th through the 18th century in the form known as majolica, or tin-glazed earthenware. Since the jar had to be easy to hold, use, and shelve, its basic form was cylindrical but incurved for grasping and wide-mouthed for access. All albarelli are about 7 inches (18 centimeters) high. A few have close-set handles, but, because they were not designed to hold liquids, they are generally free of spouts, lips, handles, and outcurved forms. A piece of paper or parchment tied around the rim served as a cover for the jar.”


A quick Google search for images gives you an idea of the varieties of alberelli there were. I would imagine that aside from these very decorative ones, there were also plain ones.

After finding the alberello term I stumbled upon the term spezieria. I had originally looked for farmacia, as they are called in the current and last century… but apparently in the 15th and 16th centuries cities were known for their spezieria. Spezierie (or, spezie) are spices. The speziale, or apothecary, was in charge of processing and mixing herbs and spices to produce unguenti (ointments), tisane (herbal teas), and sciroppi (natural syrup bases). In their simple gardens (Hortus Simplicium) the speziale cultivated herbs for curatives which were labelled simplici (simple) for the straight herbal ones, and compositi (composite) for the ones created via mixing substances.

The Spezieria di San Giovanni in Parma was founded by Benedictine monks during the Middle Ages. It has been documented in the same location since 1201 AD, and today is open as a tourist attraction with it’s historic interior restored. The Speziale al Giglio in Florence, has much the same story, and has been in operation at least since 1464. Once once owned by Tommaso dei Guidi, this apothecary shop is still a major attraction in Florence.

From there I found the diary of Luca Landucci who was a Florentine apothecary who kept an account of the daily occurrences in his city from 1450 until his death in 1516. Then I stumbled upon an archive site where some of the notable apothecaries transaction registers are posted (yes!!!!). I’ve begun assembling the research to make my dream of running a small apothecary shop for living history events possible.

spezieria th-8_pharmacie

So, the answers that I have found so far to my original questions are:

  • What was the name of the shop that would sell cosmetics and other beauty/health supplies?
    • Spezieria (Spezieria di San Giovanni), Farmacia, Aromatario (Aromatario della Luna), or Speziale (Speziale al Giglio)
  • What items would those shops offer?
    • Ointments, oils, pomades, cosmetics, creams, soaps, perfumes, candles, potpourri, specialty foods and candies, liqueurs and syrups, medicinal preparations, herbal tisanes, herbal waters, remedies, pigments. Also, seating with games.
  • Who would frequent the shop?
    • Laborers, fisherman, painters, and housewives to buy prescription drugs, sweets, candles, or to listen to gossip or play chess. For instance, Ghirlandaio is recorded in the register of the Speziale al Giglio.
  • What types of records from the shopkeepers might be in Italian archives?
    • Business registers, diaries (ricordi), and records of sales. For instance, the archive of the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence has the records of many apothecary shops of the early Renaissance with names, debts, and payments of clients. They kept these records for legal purposes in case of disputes over credit and payment, and for tax purposes.




I want to be this girl when I grow up. Excellent work on her Italian wardrobe!

Originally posted on Cathelina di Alessandri:

A gamurra is the layer worn over the camicia and were suitable for very informal situations such as wearing around your own home when you weren’t receiving visitors.

Gamurre were very tightly fitted and laced up the front. Occasionally you see side lacing which would be very beneficial for pregnancy. Sleeves could be sewn on or attached with pins or lacing ties.

My blue gamurra was the first I made



I based my brown gamurra on this portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci by Leonardo da Vinci


The skirt panels on this dress are rectangles and it is double box pleated.


My yellow gamurra has a slightly lower neckline and higher waist and was inspired by some of the Venetian styles

1470 The Meeting of Jephthah and his Daughter BENVENUTO DI GIOVANNI


My fabric was a very pale pink so I dyed it in the bath with some fibre reactive dyes. It turned out a beautiful yellow.

skirt pattern

I cut my panels into…

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Bingen’ s Calming Water, an Original Composition


An idea for a calming perfume :)

Originally posted on Segreti del Pavone:

image  To finish off the end of the summer perfume series, I came up with an original composition based on the works of St. Hildegarde of Bingen.  For those not familiar with her, St. Hildegarde was a 12th century German mystic who wrote prolifically on a variety of subjects.  She also has musical works attributed to her.  Pope John Paul II named her a Father of the Church.  One of her books, Physica, recommends a potpourri of rose and sage to “calm and quiet a troubled mind and soul”.  You can just make a potpourri and keep it on your desk, (a recommendation from a friend of mine who swears it helps office tension) or you could wear this lovely fragrance.  I came up with this recipe.


I put two fresh roses from my garden (I grow knock-out roses) along with two fresh sage leaves in a clean…

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A feast for hunters


Yummy ideas!

Originally posted on Exploring the medieval hunt:


As autumn is moving in we thought that we needed to connect with all our friends that has seen us out and about reenacting hunters. We also wanted to show people how easy it can be to gather in medieval a setting, and at the same time encourage those that has not been into reenacting in this way before to join up.

Of course, we also wanted to show some part of the medieval hunt, and also educate our fellows around this subject. The choice soon fell upon ‘The gathering’. This is the place where the hunters gather and wait for all the preparatory work before the actual chase. The great hunt, the hunt that was mostly praised and the hunt most huntbooks are concerned about, was a big affair.  Many people and dogs where involved. It was usually prepared the day before, if not several days ahead.

In the…

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